Gris-Gris, an online journal of literature, culture & the arts

The Driver

by Frederick Pollack


Some idiot blocking

the intersection makes us turn

to shake our heads with someone:

me in the left lane, he in the right;

he in his black Ford Fusion, me

in my rented black Ford Fusion (I like

to rent midsize, for some reason).

And each of us sees that strange thing:

someone who looks like us. Exactly.

Though his smile is more generous,

and he’s wearing a nicer coat. Seems older,

or perhaps, I don’t know, I look older.

Kept more of his hair, though it’s whiter?

The schmuck ahead of us moves, finally,

and my friend, with a little wave,

turns right. I continue

down Halstead, which I didn’t know

except as a name, fifty years ago

when I lived here, or whenever I last

visited my home town (his home).

It meant the ends of the earth, a slum.

Now, mile after mile

is university-gentrified,

with drycleaners, WiFi, day-care centers,

everything for the kids, and the kids’ kids …

It’s strange how the South Side seems

to be changing places with the North.

I wonder: was he for any reason

up there today, in the, in my

old neighborhood? Liquor stores

and barred unpainted windows

where late the sweet birds sang. I shouldn’t

have gone; was warned.

But I’ve been driving all day long.

Perhaps he called on an old friend,

an artist living cheap among the poor.

No. He isn’t an intellectual.

The friend is a former accountant

for his old firm, retired when he did.

They talked about boats, the Sox, the kids,

knocked back one careful beer. And later

he stopped where I did, on Lincoln,

somehow missing the downpour

that kept me from a bookstore

that’s probably no longer there. He entered

the famous old Pharmacy, left with expensive soaps

and moisturizer … He’s always considerate.

She appreciates it.

Now he’s heading west somewhere,

I randomly east to the shadow

of Sears. He knows the ins and outs

of these streets. Grandchildren squeal

when his presence is promised. Has followed

for decades, while I was elsewhere, new life

in old bricks. But why does he park

so reluctantly, climb

so somberly those steps? Why is his coat

so dark? The rain returns. For whom those flowers?